Sunday, April 4, 1993

On Banning Leg-Hold Traps

New York Times Articles

By Susan Russell

Re: "New Jersey's Trappers Are an Endangered Species," Feb. 28:

As the lobbyist of record for New Jersey's 1984 law banning steel-jaw leg-hold traps (and against several failed fur trade attempts to eviscerate the statute), I got from the article the distinct feeling of entering a time warp. Nearly a decade after the law was passed, arguments that were fully discredited during legislative deliberations were being resurrected.

The idea that trapping has been a major source of income for trappers and their families is, with very few exceptions, not the case. At the same time the New Jersey Legislature was considering the ban, the United States Bureau of the Census estimated that the number of professional trappers and hunters in the United Stated was "between 0 and 2,000." Very few if any of those professionals resided in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation.

The Pennsylvania "Trapper Training Guide" advises trappers: "Trapping is done primarily for sport, although the extra dollars gleaned from a year's catch always comes in handy."

According to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, which conducted a nationwide survey of trappers, the average trapper "traps 11 days out of the season." The same survey asked trappers if the activity was a "major source of income," and 86.4 percent responded, "No."

All of this hardly constitutes the scenario of livelihood deprivation painted by a handful of hard-core trappers in the article.

The pro-trapping position of the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, the major lobbyist against the 1984 law, was mentioned. The bureaucracy enjoys a conflict of interest about as hard to miss as the proverbial barn door. The division's budget is dependent on revenues from hunting and trapping licenses for salaries and benefits.

It is unfortunate that the salutary humanitarian results of this law -- a drastic reduction in the number of animals subjected to the bone-crushing agony of steel-jaw leg-hold traps -- were instead portrayed as bothersome to the state's 435 trappers.

The law's sponsors, the former legislators D. Bennett Mazur and Carmen Orechio, deserve our gratitude for ridding this state of an unspeakably cruel 19th-century device that has been banned by 64 countries, but not, to this nation's shame, by the United States.

SUSAN RUSSELL Legislative Adviser Society for Animal Protective Legislation Washington

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